New Centre-state feud: Raman govt goes to court over mining rights

A director-level officer in the ministry of mines last August overturned the state’s order

Written by Amitav Ranjan | New Delhi | Published: February 23, 2012 3:05:19 am

The government of Chhattisgarh has taken the Centre to court for allegedly infringing upon the state’s mining rights through a provision in the Mineral Concession Rules,1960.

In a writ petition filed last week,the state asked Delhi High Court to declare Rule 55 (4) of the Mineral Concession Rules (MCR) as “unconstitutional and ultra vires” of the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act,1957,as it gave draconian powers to the Centre to bypass states.

Rule 55 (4) of the MCR,framed by the Centre,empowers it to “confirm,modify or set aside the (state) order or pass such other order in relation thereto as the central government may deem just and proper” through a Central Mines Tribunal.

Raman Singh’s government has said that this confers upon the Centre “unlimited powers and thereby wholly disturbs and disobeys the legislative scheme” where the mineral-owning state has the right to issue or reject mining concessions.

Parliament,the state has argued,did not give the centre the power to initiate or direct a state to issue concessions for mines and minerals,a state subject.

The tussle between Chhattisgarh and the central government — another in a series of jousts between the centre and states over federalism and the autonomy of states — came to the fore after the centre used this review authority to reverse the state’s rejection of mining applications filed by Jayaswals Neco Industries for iron ore blocks that are estimated to hold 280 million tonnes,currently valued at Rs 80,000 crore.

A director-level officer in the ministry of mines — who also doubled as the single-member tribunal — last August overturned the state’s order,issued by a secretary-rank officer after approval from the chief minister.

“The (tribunal) order is prima facie ultra vires of the limited scope of revisional jurisdiction conferred upon Central Government under Section 30 of the MMDRA. The revisionary authority has converted itself into an appellate authority and has assumed jurisdiction which is not vested in it by law,” says the petition listed by the court for hearing on April 30.

The state has also challenged the changes to the tribunal by the mines ministry while the hearing of the review petition was ongoing.

Review petitions were initially heard by a two-member tribunal,one of whose members was joint or additional legal advisor from the Department of Legal Affairs. But in December 2009,the ministry changed it to a single-member bench presided over by an administrative officer in the rank of joint secretary or below who could pass orders with the approval of additional secretary and above.

From August 2010,even this was diluted,with the ministry authorising the administrative officers to hear and finally decide the revision cases at their own level.

“By these changes,the whole process of hearing of revision has been rendered inefficacious,bereft of judicial attribution and which,particularly in the facts of the instant case,has resulted in serious miscarriage of justice,” says the Chhattisgarh government in its petition.

It has said that the case raises a fundamental question of the propriety of having a quasi judicial body presided over by a single non-judicial member to decide cases of natural mineral resources worth thousands of crores of rupees in revisionary jurisdiction.

The delegation of powers to a single administrative officer is a “colourable exercise of power and subversive to rule of law”,the state has said.

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